Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 13
by Joseph Wharton Lippincott, 1924


Picture of branch with persimmons
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Persimmon Jim: The Possum  Intro    |    Preface    |    Ch. 1    |    Ch. 2    |    Ch. 3    |    Ch. 4    |    Ch. 5    |    Ch. 6    |    Ch. 7    |
                                              Ch. 8    |   
Ch. 9    |    Ch. 10    |    Ch. 11    |    Ch. 12    |    Ch. 13    |    Ch. 14    |    Ch. 15  |

Chapter 13: The Last 'Possum

There came nights when the south wind melted much of the snow and filled the valley with mist. Then Jim would come out for a walk around. After having a drink and hunting a few ground cherries on the edge of the wood, he would saunter up the Creek a little way, find everything still too frozen to be interesting and then go back to his bed. Thus January passed and then February.

March brought very wet, raw weather, with winds which made the trees rock and beat their limbs together. Men said that it was the worst March on record. This was the month when Ed Johnson each year made his inventory of the woods, checking up by the tracks in the slushy snow just what animals were still living along Goose Creek.  He relied on the warm March weather bringing them all out, and it did.

Ed felt certain that this year he would trail Persimmon Jim to his den and catch him. Day after day he looked for tne nght tracking snow and when it came, trudged through the woods with his eyes ever on the trails; but no 'possum tracks did he find. It looked as if all the 'possums had gone away or been killed.

Towards the end of the month there was a night of slush and mist and some rain, very warm and very quiet. Melting snow still lay in the woods; Ed knew his best and perhaps last chance had come. Not waiting for morning he took out his lantern and trudged through the fields to Goose Creek. He had on boots and heavy clothes to keep him dry and comfortable.

On the bank of the creek, Ed found what he was looking for. A queer track it was, like the mark of one small hand pressed over another. The line of them wound in and out among the trees and headed north.

"At last! " thought Ed. "And this time I'll get him!" He followed cautiously, now almost crawling to get through the tangles, now splashing through hidden puddles.

It became hot work. Ed shed his overcoat and hung it on a tree. Now he could travel more quickly. The trail brought him to the hickory stump and led in.  Again Ed's heart began to hit his ribs. But Jim had come out again and gone on. The trail led him to the cave where the ferns grew in summer, then again went on.

" Strange!" muttered Ed. "He isn't after a den; he seems to be hunting for some other 'possum." The rain fell steadily, so he turned up the collar of his wool jacket and pushed on harder. Ahead was a woodpile but still the trail leading north; after a time another wood-pile, then a long wet stretch to the den near the persimmon trees.  Jim had gone into this but had started on again.

Ed sat down on a fallen tree to rest; the rain was soaking through his clothes and steaming from the warmth of his body.  Once more he took up the trail and in the next two hours visited every den up the valley; in that night he had learned more about the haunts of the wild things than in all the years of his life. He became deeply interested in the 'possum's search and found himself hoping, each time they came to a den, that Jim would find whatever he was looking for.

"It must be some mate he's hunting," he thought, " but I never before saw anything like this. Miles and miles and still going! " Jim had crossed the Creek on a log and turned south. There was determination in the trail he left; if he was getting tired the tracks did not show it. On and on trudged Ed forgetting everything but the story he was reading in that trail.

At length Ed found himself back on Ben Slown's farm; the trail was leading him to the pasture hilL Here the 'possum had examined the old woodchuck burrows and then sat down as if to think where to go next. He must have stayed there for some time for the track was deep where his body had rested. When he had started out again the trail was different; it circled aimlessly, it stopped as if in doubt and often retraced itself. Finally it carne back to the Creek almost opposite the spot where Ed had first found the line.

"The poor fellow's going home," thought Ed. "He's searched the whole Valley for his mate and given it up. He knows now he's the last 'possum!" And Ed, being a mighty good man at heart, felt a real twinge of remorse.

But here the trail changed again. Jim was running; he had evidently caught sight of the lantern creeping up on him from behind. Coming to the swollen Creek he had climbed across on a fallen limb and vanished in a thicket.

Ed was too heavy for such a flimsy bridge.  He thought of all the places he could cross and remembered they were a long distance away. The water looked fairly shallow and the 'possum was very close. Without further thought he waded in and somehow pulled through the icy stream which washed well over his boots.

The trail led out of the wood and into the fields where the snow was nearly all melted; it went straight for the bare ground back of Sam Collins's farm. Ed was running now; daylight was coming and he had thrown down the lantern. If the 'possum reached the buildings there could be no more tracking; then once more it would be said that Persimmon Jim had tricked him.

Ahead he saw a gray shape shuffling along as hard as it could. There was no yellow streak in Jim; to the last he was a fighter. But when Jim reached the barnyard fence and tried to cross it by an old ladder Ed was upon him.

"Ya-hoo! I've got you at last!" Jim whirled at the yell, so close. He seemed to know his time had come. No hole near enough to enter, no tree to offer even temporary escape. But the old warrior braced himself and bared those long shining teeth that had won so many battles. His eyes blazed and his breath hissed as he dared his pursuer to come on. He could not, however, hide his long tail which offered such a good hold to an enemy. Ed made a guarded lunge for it and, pulling suddenly, had the big 'possum at his mercy.

Jim, held up by the tail and unable to reach the hand above him, let forth that fighting growl of his and twice twisted almost double, then fell back, exhausted, utterly helpless.

Ed, now that he had him, stood there looking down at the shaggy form. He did not feel as he thought he would when this moment came. The last 'possum on Goose Creek! The man shivered and moved with his burden towards his little house back of the hill.

...continue to Chapter 14: The Hunt